Mother mosque in Cedar Rapids

Do we really need Mosques in America?

It was never my intention to become unmosqued. Growing up, I fervently worked to fit in at my community mosque, attending weekly halaqas and taking part in community projects wherever I could squeeze myself in. Eventually, lack of acceptance, organizational immobility, and ingrained leadership sexism pushed me out of the mosque I tried for years to call my own. Going against everything I had been taught to finally find my religious identity, I discovered a world that, prior to my leaving the mosque, was only spoken of with regret and a sense of finality from within the conventional religious community. It was a world that was overwhelmingly populated by young people and women, ranging from the conservative to the secular. Increasingly finding solidarity with others in the digital world, we all considered ourselves unmosqued. Reflected in the greater religious community in America, the phenomenon doesn’t seem to be faltering, which begs the question: how will our trends of increasingly “uncentered” youth bode for the future of religion in America? Can we really qualify faith as being found only through attending a religious center? Or are we moving towards a new era, where faith and community is defined by a whole new type of metric?

Mother mosque in Cedar Rapids
Mother mosque in Cedar Rapids

Watching Unmosqued, a controversial documentary about immigrant-founded mosques in America, I was struck by the sheer amount of uproar it created – not because the topics covered within were unknown to the Muslim American community, but because this was perhaps the first time that these topics were being discussed on en-masse. Granted, the focus was specifically on immigrant-founded mosques, but the range was still wide: gender, race, youth and financial transparency were discussed. The documentary prompted a stark examination of self identity through the lens of the mosque, fostering an environment for questions without easy answers. I was faced with the question: does community really reside in the mosque anymore? Or can those of faith find community elsewhere? Growing up, I witnessed my peers being pushed out of the mosque, one by one, because of mistreatment from the elders, alienation based on dress, or simply a lack of relevancy to the topics being covered. Once the youth left the mosque, it took nothing short of a miracle to re-engage them within the four walls, and that made me realize that the future really cannot be found inside mosques, if the very form of future refuses to come back. Given that this is also reflected in national rates of service attendance, it begs the question: are people going to do anything to rectify this?

Roughly three in ten Americans say they seldom or never attend religious services, a figure that has increased modestly in the past decade. A 2012 Pew Research poll asked respondents with a religious affiliation what was keeping them out of the religious center – and 37% pointed to a problem with the beliefs of the religion or community leaders. On another point, one-fifth of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, a figure that’s higher than any other time in recent US history. However, more than a third of these 46 million unaffiliated classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.” It’s quite clear: it’s not just increasing numbers of Muslim Americans that are redefining for themselves what it means to be a part of a faith. With the phenomenon, comes an examination of faith as an identity. Pushed out of religious centers, Americans of all faiths and traditions are redefining for themselves what it means to be spiritual, practicing and religious. More and more, saying that you attend a place of worship regularly is no longer a working definition of “religious.” Instead, religious identity is being reconstructed more firmly by way of beliefs, practices and third-spaces, either online or in-person. For many Muslim Americans, 69% of whom consider religion to be important in their lives, faith identity comes before any other – so writing off those who now consider themselves unmosqued or uncentered is short-sighted and lacks sustainability.

What, then, is the future of faith in America? I believe religion will always play a strong role in those who consider themselves religious or spiritual, but whether that will be found within a religious center, is one I don’t necessarily agree with. Continuing to push young people, women, and people of color out is setting the conventional faith center up for failure, and for now, the lack of systematic change in leadership and programming bodes poorly. Although third spaces have begun to fill a need for community for Muslim American and American faith groups, centers of worship will not be able to survive the test of time and fade from relevance should they continue down the current path. As a result, there’s a heavy responsibility to re-enter centers and take back the leadership, programming and ethics with respect and a sense of urgency. To wait any further is to have waited for far too long. There are buildings scattered across America, empty of purpose and congregations, simply because people left – and never turned back. For the future of mosques in America, Muslim Americans who have been unmosqued must make a decision. Alongside this sense of urgency, however, is a sense of freshness: the community, innovations and conversations taking place in third spaces is unlike any that happened within mosques – and for now, that’s okay. The future of faith in America might just not take place within a conventional center of worship. For many, that’s just how it’s going to be.

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  • About the autor
    Laila Alawa

    Laila Alawa is a cultural pundit, social entrepreneur​ ​and digital strategist. She is​ ​the founder and president of Coming of Fait​h​,​ ​LLC, ​associate editor at The Islamic Monthly, manages nonprofit communications and media outreach,​ ​and​ ​​regularly​ ​​writes columns for The Huffington Post, ​Mic​,​ and The Guardian.​ ​​To learn more about her work, visit her at​ ​

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    • ad. Dawah

      this zine islamic monthly must be sponsored by kuffar. america is dangerous to the true believer. it is a society of desire and dunya. a muslim man is obligated to attend jummah. unmosqued? stupidest thing i ever heard of. secular b.s.

      • yazpistachio

        The Qur’an speaks out against one group of people the most – the munafiqoon (hypocrites). More than the kuffar, more than the people of the book.

        Hypocrites were the largest source of fitnah during the time of Nabi Muhammad saaws, and they are still the largest source of fitnah for this ummah.

        Yes, you can be unmosqued. It happens. It’s not SUPPOSED to happen, but when the munafiqoon are interested with the political power that comes from serving on the Board of Trustees and Executive Committee, that’s what you get. Women being forced from the mosques in the name of “piety”, including reverts who have zero support at home and who need the support of their sisters in Islam. Men being forced from the mosque because people suspect that they’re gay or Shi’i or Ahmadiyya.

        I live four houses from a mosque and I am not allowed to attend simply because I am a woman. I have been unmosqued. The Maulanas tell me that if I want the reward for making Isha and Fajr in congregation, I must do it with the other women in my household. They expect me to support their Deobandi perspective on Islam because of ikhtilaaf, and yet there’s no respect at all that my school does not recognise prayer being led by a woman, even if she is only leading other women.

        People get unmosqued all the time. It happens. I have seen men barred from the mosque because of silly things like the length of their pants. In some communities, the power grabs by men with long beards are ruining everything.

        • Jekyll

          Do muslims need Islam anymore ?

        • Aasiyah Sattar

          I’m sorry as a muslim women, i totally disagree with you. Firstly we as muslim women suppose to know our place as daughter’s, wives, and mother’s on this ummah. Islam protects us females from so many evil on this earth which is written in the Quraan and hadeeth’s long before we come to realize the reason for the verses revealed to the prophet. I don’t see your urgency wanting to go to mosque firstly knowing that mosque’s were built mainly for men. They are then commanded by our creator to come back to their household and teach their women what they’ve learned and heard, the reason why we have Khutbah on a Friday. Mosque’s were meant to share islamic knowledge amongst the muslim community, and the sacredness or holyness felt in performing your salaah, whether being in a mosque or in the comfort of your home should not differ. Its not where you pray, its how and the reason why. Women are advised not to go to mosque, for the same reason we cover ourselves from head to toe. Reverts that seek Islamic knowledge does not need to find it in a mosque, the Quraan has everything we as muslims need to know and learn. As for the banning of making salaah due to the length of the pants, Islam does not force males to wear it above their ankles but rather it is permissible, and the sunnat of the prophet, which is a choice. I’ve seen women who were given the chance to make salaah at a mosque, but rather spent their time standing in the car park, staring at men folk debating which one was sexier then the next. Instead of making salah , in the end it became a place to socialize and find potential husband’s . So they closed the women section down.
          My question to you is, why the urge to go to mosque , when you can do the exact same thing at home ?

    • Rashad Abdul-Azeem

      It’s called free speech something that in many Muslims countries you will disappear for in attempting to exercise. Reading with an understanding is fundamental. The sister is simple saying that some Muslims have met with difficulty with acceptance or lack of transparency in some Masajid, and the marginal roles that women are too often regulated to.
      In Syria and other countries that have a Masjid on every corner, fitnah is everywhere. Our faith is derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah and the Masjid is central to Muslim community life. America represents the best country in the world for Muslims to flourish (ask those who come here), yes there are challenges, but the opportunities for freedom and growth are far greater. Instead of just complaining how bad America is work to make it better.